On Guard! The Story of SAGE
"Protection comes high...sky high. Today we must be on guard in the sky when it comes to protecting our resources...the national resources that are so precious to us." Cut to a shot of children playing at the school playground.
There is nothing unusual about On Guard! Ñ it's an ordinary film, one of many thousands produced by military contractors to boast of their participation in the defense of our nation. And just this very ordinariness is what makes it interesting, because it proves how central military and defense consciousness was to mid-century culture, and speaks to the magnitude of the effort to enlist technology in fighting the Cold War. It's also a highly ephemeral film, since the technology it reveals became quickly outdated as intercontinental ballistic missiles replaced bombers as vehicles for the delivery of nuclear weapons.
On Guard! introduces the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), a heavily computerized early warning system designed to guard against enemy aircraft. For its time, this was novel technology Ñ room-sized computers and giant "Displayscopes" Ñ and the film seeks to humanize it to a technologically unsophisticated public. "You are listening to the heartbeat of the SAGE computer. Every instrument in this room is constantly monitoring, testing, pulse-taking, controlling." Cutting back to images of children playing and a little girl sleeping with her doll, it asks "what better reason for an electronic defense?" and tells us that "the future of America is secure."
Interesting for its glimpses of huge mainframe computers maintained by well-tailored women and white-shirted men, On Guard! reminds us of the close relations between the computer industry and defense establishment throughout this century. ENIAC, the first stored-program digital computer, was created as part of a World War II defense project. Much of IBM's research and development activity has been supported by the Department of Defense. And, as many of us know, the Internet was developed with funding from DOD's Advanced Research Products Agency.
Contains several great old computer shots.
LS missile in the middle of a valley, mountains in the background
One missile is fired, camera follows it into the sky
B/W planes in formation
CU kids on playground
CU color, school bell on outside brick wall
School children run, get in line to march inside
CU Air Force plane (bombers) in sky
Mushroom cloud from nuclear explosion (B&W)
MCU facade, IBM building, people walking into building
Men working, SAGE computer
Model of IBM, nucleus is sage computer
CU SAGE, magnetic drums, tapes and cores
Radar, Texas Tower, ships, aircraft
CU Air Force man at desk
CU of computer data card
CU hand inserting packet of data cards, pushing button
Computer sorts cards
CU model of IBM
HEADQUARTERS NEW YORK AIR DEFENSE SECTOR
MLS Direction Center, square white building, no identification
CU display scope, yellow disk center
VS blurry footage of computer printer in action, woman monitoring it
VS/LS room with SAGE computer
2 men standing together, camera pans down to ledger they are looking at
Camera pans down to DISPLAY SCOPE
MLS dark of man with headphones monitoring display scope (huge old CRT video terminal with large circular yellow screen)
Model of interior of IBM - across SAGE
MCU dark, men in display scope room
CU sideview of man with headphones and mouthpiece, sitting in front of display scope
CU images in display scope
CU finger pushing buttons
CU display scope
MCU dark of men in headphones and mouthpieces in front of display scope
B/W MCU Air Force plane in sky
B/W MCU three missiles, they are fired
Back to men in front of display scopes
MCU white building, no identification
CU IBM-brand electric clock, says 11:55
Three Air Force men lined up in front of display scopes
CU from behind of man in front of display scope (radar type)
CU clock, 11:56
B/W Air Force men, one answers the phone, they take off running out of the door towards Air Force fighter planes
B/W CU from behind of helmeted pilot as plastic bubble closes and seals him into plane
B/W flying fighter
CU IBM-brand electric clock, 12:00
Three school children skipping out of school towards car and mother
Mother and child at car, little girl and mother look up to see three Air Force fighter planes
VS Air Force planes in sky
CU corner of computer
Camera pans men at drawing boards, white lines over picture
B/W pilot pouring "coffee" into cup
VS B/W plane taking off, one with parachute in back opened
CU computer maintenance
Men at drawing boards
Girl and mother play with doll beds on living room floor
VS CU electronic assembly units, computer parts
CU computer part with "rain" falling on it (durability testing)
CU hands put computer unit in water tank
MLS men in parkas opening heavy metal door, walk into the room, door closes, man in white coat looks door behind them
CU ceiling lights being turned on
CU rain spraying
CU mechanical machine, switching switches back and forth (durability)
CU electronic units
CU vibration test on computer unit
CU taxiing airplane
CU hand taking out electronic board and putting it in somewhere else
CU hand inserting tube
CU hand pushing ADVANCE button
CU man leaving room, door reads RESTRICTED AREA KEEP DOORS CLOSED, men coming in the same door
CU cardboard boxes
CU man with tube working on electronics
CU construction site for plant in Owego, New York
Scale model of B52, nose of the plane, showing "brain equipment", radar dish just below the nose
Model - computer, display scope, etc.
CU fighter in the air
VS/CU pilot in helmet and gear
CU hand working on plane (interior)
Dark CU woman putting light bulb in lamp, puts shade on and turns on light
CU sleeping girl
MCU parents watching sleeping girl
Danger Lurks DEFENSE MISSILES AIRPLANES CHILDREN SCHOOLS PLAYGROUNDS BLASTS ATOMIC NUCLEAR COMPUTERS RADAR SCREENS FUTURISM OSCILLOSCOPES DISPLAYS PERCEPTION WHITE COLLAR COMMUNICATIONS ROCKETS WAR CLOCKS MOTHERS DRAFTSMEN MACHINERY ELECTRONICS TESTING DOORS BUILDINGS MODELS SLEEPING LIGHTS BULBS GIRLS 1950S BOMBERS BOMBS WARFARE B-52S MILITARY AIRCRAFT SAC STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND WARHEADS BUILDINGS FACTORIES WAR ROOMS CRT CATHODE RAY TUBES CONTROL WOMEN AIR FORCE PILOTS SCRAMBLING safety
Subject: mashup based on this now at the Archive
This clip was so good I based a mashup with original music around it:
Subject: Ah, the good old days, great memories
Subject: The best defense $ can buy
Subject: Were there asbestos containing components?
Subject: SAGE Building In Newburgh NY Needs Your Help
Background on current preservation effort: http://www.nationaltrust.org/magazine/archives/arch_story/101701.htm
A web site about the SAGE building:
Subject: Remember when computers could fit into a entire floor?
Subject: I used to repair those things
Subject: Great Film for Computer Buffs
A couple of key points about this film: First, it may be the first public illustration of the concept of the "black box," i.e., a self-contained, easily replaceable, electronic module. Even more interesting, to me, is that the computer on which you watch this film is thousands of times more powerful than the entire SAGE system. In fact, your computer is more powerful than all of the computers in the world combined, circa 1956.
An interesting little film about the early days of electronic computers.
Subject: Location of SAGE Building
Subject: Keeping us safe from the red menace
One final note: this system was fully operational until the mid-1980's.
Subject: SAGE - the largest computer ever built
Subject: High tech stuff from the early 50s
This film features some very interesting infos for computer freaks, the average viewer might get bored. Personally I found it very interesting that already at this time graphical computer displays existed.
Ignore the usual patriotic stuff... or smile.